"When is the economy going to rebound?" As economists and newscasters search for meaning in tiny bits of statistics, even we in the nonprofit sector seem to have adopted an attitude of holding on for just a few years until things "bounce back."
As Sally Carlson says in this issue’s feature article (on job finding), we’ve been in an unprecedented bubble, and it’s unrealistic and even undesirable for that bubble economy and its false sense of wealth to return. As nonprofits, we typically feel economic aftershocks one to three years after an economic earthquake, as contracts and grants expire and get canceled, are renewed at lower levels, or go through long, tortuous twists and turns while we nonprofits bear the costs of the delay.
But what’s disturbing about our reactions is that we seem to be acting as if it’s new for us to have need outstrip resources. In fact, in human services we have never been able to meet the need, and we have decades of experience managing in that gap. That gap is wider and deeper now, but we can draw upon what we’ve learned about managing our organizations without all the resources to be what our communities need us to be.
In short, rather than see ourselves as getting through a tough period to when prosperity returns, we need to see instead that:
- Economic difficulties are likely to continue to deepen for community nonprofits over the next two to three years.
- When the economic cycle does turn, the new norm will be very different. The combination of the billion-dollar tax cuts of 2007-08, along with the social cuts driven by the economic crisis, means that the new norm will be a restructured economy where more people are poor, and middle class lifestyle will have eroded.
The good news — if we can call it that — is that we in community nonprofits know what to do about it. We know how to manage our organizations in the tension between demand and funding supply. We know how to commit to responding to our constituencies. We know how to get out voters. We know how to cajole one day and yell the next. In this crisis, we will worry about some organizations, but we don’t need to worry about the nonprofit sector. It will always be where people with vision will find the tools and the compatriots to make change.
* An update on last issue’s Nonprofit Fish Quiz is at the end of this issue, while you’ll also find help for nonprofit job hunters, a Dashboard for Boards, and a 3-minute vacation to another galaxy: Planet501c3. And spend some time in the sun! –Jan Masaoka